April 13, 2010
 

The Decomposition of the Television Set

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By Paul McEnany

Lately, I've been thinking about what television advertising will look like over the next few years. Although the 30-second spot pallbearers are suited and ready to go, that doesn't mean video is on the way out. In fact, I think it's just now getting its wind.

Yes, I realize that sounds ridiculous. After 75 years of massive growth, we're just now getting started?

Yes. Television is not dying, not even close. It's growing as fast as ever before.

So, let's get out the champagne and throw a party, right? Advertising is saved!

Not so fast. Of course, this sounds like we can relax, use our same old television commercials, and whistle all the way to the bank. But technology is too fickle a friend, and as it has empowered our abilities, now it will empower others'.

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TV sets are greatly enhanced by the DVR, but nearly all DVR owners don't watch the ads. Not only that, they're buying the shows a la carte on the web, transferring them to their IPods, and in some cases, even to their mobile phones.

And, soon, live TV will be available on those same phones. Just look at Asia. Only South Korea and Japan have launched mobile live television services, and already growth has been staggering, with 5 times the amount of users expected in less than two years. Do you think small screen viewers will stick around to watch ads when all they have to do is snap it shut?

Not only that, the four major networks, MTV, and Comedy Central, with a slew of others in the works, have moved their prime-time offering online, just within the last year. How long will it be before all networks, cable or otherwise are online? Probably not very.

As if that weren't enough, networks are launching like wildfire based solely on IPTV. Rocketboom already receives hundreds of thousands of views every day, which is already more than some cable shows. And shows like Diggnation, Ask a Ninja and Ze Frank aren't far behind. And the democratization of media continues...

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You didn't think I'd for forget about YouTube, did you? 100 million videos served per day. 20 million unique users per month. And the biggest surprise is that over half of these users are over the age of 35 already. Of course, there are a lot of young people, but this is a cultural phenomenon, a shift that crosses all boundaries. And YouTube isn't alone. Revver, Grouper, Vimeo, and others, are a part of a growing market for online video media properties.

And right now, we're only in the beginnings, just taking our baby steps. But, don't be fooled and don't forget those rapid changes in the last year. It doesn't take long for technology to reach adulthood these days.

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In the beginning of 2007, Apple will be releasing iTV, making it easier than ever before for our computers to be wirelessly connected to our television screens, bringing these IPTV networks and shows to the big screen more easily than ever before. What happens to their growth then? It doesn't take a wild imagination to answer that question.

With so many choices, and so much control only a click away, consumers don't welcome the opportunity for unwanted advertising, so, of course, no one has yet figured out where we fit in. But it means huge opportunities for those that do. And there is absolutely no reason for it not to be one of us.

Don't be surprised to see a huge demand for branded entertainment. The advertisers will come to us first, but only if we're ready. If we're not, those dollars will go elsewhere. Budweiser has already launched its own network, and don't be surprised when smaller advertisers begin following suit in an attempt to cut out the middle man.

And all that is just video content, be it branded or not. With broadband penetration reaching 70% of internet users this year, an increase of nearly 30% over last year, our computers and our networks are now beginning to be capable of handling a large amount of video all over the web. The only catch is that we have to entice them to watch. It's not so easy to find the passive consumer these days.

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Luckily, we will no longer be shackled to a 30-second increment. Our ability to grow will be firmly tied to our ability to innovate and engage. Without the crutch of forced viewing, we will be enabled to create and connect in ways video has never been allowed to before, with interactivity not even imagined in the Jetsons.

No one ever thought a consumer could click on a piece of clothing an actor is wearing in a video clip, and have it on his or her doorstep the next morning. Or further, search for a knock-off that looks similar to the one in the video, and have that the next day. Even this is becoming a reality as we speak.

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These changes aren't evolutionary shifts. They are revolutionary. And, as with revolutions, two things can happen. You win big, or you lose big. There generally is no revolutionary middle class.

While they may just seem to be extensions of products we already offer, with new ways of doing the same old things, they're not. While the steps that got us here were incremental, the overall affect is exponential.

The VCR didn't kill us, nor did the remote, the DVD player, the cell phone, cable TV or the IPod, but they're all symptoms of a trend that has finally reached critical mass. We are no longer in control. The consumers are, and if we approach them with the same old messages, the same old strategies, we will inevitably fail, as they are beginning to falter now.

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There is only one surety left, if we don't begin to try new things, offering something new and different, our industry will be remembered for the things we've done, not the things we will do. And that should be unacceptable to everyone.

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Paul McEnany is a new media and marketing strategist at Levenson and Hill in Dallas, TX and works with clients in business categories ranging from logistics to QSR. He is a contributor to Beyond Madison Avenue, one of the most popular marketing blogs as well as his own personal marketing blog, Hee Haw Marketing. A budding activist, he can be reached at paul.mcenany@gmail.com.

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